Trump’s Middle East policy and future of pro-Iran lobbyJan 10th, 2017
It is largely expected that Trump administration will diminish the influence of pro-Iran lobby and cut its tentacles in the State Department, but a misguided policy in the Middle East that benefits Tehran could eventually help this lobby to thrive in Washington once again.
Since the victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election, experts and pundits have been striving to decipher or predict his Middle East and Iran policy. This policy could affect the influence of what is commonly known as the pro-Iran lobby in Washington, a coalition of organizations and politicians who demand that the US government remove sanctions, adopt a friendlier policy with Iran and accept Iranian influence in the Middle East, regardless of Iran’s actions. At the center of this coalition are small Iranian-American organizations and several individuals who are tied to various factions of the Iranian regime.
During the Obama administration, the pro-Iran lobby evolved from a pressure group to a White House partner as Obama’s Iran policy has been largely based on the views and recommendations put forward by the pro-Iran lobby. At its center was the false assumption that if the United States adopts a less belligerent attitude towards Iran and gains the trust of the Iranian leaders, Iran would reciprocate, empowering the moderate factions and leading to the Iranian regime to gradually reform itself with even the human rights situation improving. Consequently, the Iranian regime’s regional policies would also change, and Iran would gradually become a responsible regional power abiding by international rules.
Obama’s misconception about Iran was well illustrated in his policy toward Tehran when he ignored the popular uprising of 2009 in Iran and continued his overture toward the regime. He believed that a nuclear deal with Iran would transform the regime and change its foreign policy. Eager to reach such a deal, he closed his eyes to the sectarian and repressive actions of Iranian proxy militias in Iraq and the Iran-backed Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. He stood by as Iran intervened in Syria, slaughtering the Syrian people in order to save the Assad regime. In the quest to reach the deal, he also made generous concessions to Iran and asked the pro-Iran lobby for help to influence American public opinion and pressure Congress in accepting the nuclear deal. Consequently, Obama’s Iran and regional policies helped the pro-Iran lobby in becoming a very influential player in Washington.
The position and influence of the pro-Iran lobby after Obama will largely depend on Trump’s policy in the region and toward Iran. As Gerald Feierstein, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs told International Business Times, Trump’s declared policies could benefit Tehran: “I speculate that, as president, Trump would like to minimize his engagement in the Middle East, except for the fight against ISIL and other violent extremist groups. If that were the case, it would strengthen Iran’s hand in pursuing its efforts at regional hegemony, particularly if the fight against violent extremism includes enhanced cooperation with Russia, the Syrian regime and, by extension, Iran.”
Similarly, Andrew J. Tabler and Dennis Ross cautioned in Foreign Affairs that “Washington’s decision to focus on ISIS but not Assad has given Russia and Iran a free hand to change the balance of power in Syria. For our Arab and Israeli partners in the region, it has also raised questions about whether the United States cares about the power struggle in the region between the Gulf Arab states and Iran, in which Moscow has chosen to back Tehran. Continued passivity from the Trump administration will reinforce the image that the United States is prepared to acquiesce to Russia and Iran’s regional plans.”
Ross has also warned of the impact of Trump’s Russian pivot and wrote in New York Daily News that “the Trump administration cannot say it is going to be tougher on Iran and at the same time join with the Russians in Syria. The two are mutually exclusive.”
It is largely expected that the Trump administration will diminish the influence of the pro-Iran lobby and cut its tentacles in the State Department, but a misguided policy in the Middle East that benefits Tehran could eventually help the lobby to thrive in Washington once again.